Thursday, October 13, 2011

Touching The Earth (Monastery Visit Part Four)

Earth brings us to life and nourishes us.  
Earth takes us back again.
We are born and we die with every breath.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
(photo of the monastery grounds just outside the nuns residence)

It's hard to believe that over a week ago, John and I and 898 other souls were spending the last of our five days at Magnolia Grove Monastery with dear Thay. 

I am amazed at how much transformation can occur in the space of just five days.  A lot of it had to do with how stripped down life is at the monastery. Life is deliciously basic and uncluttered. A lot of it has to do with Thay's teaching which is also deliciously basic and uncluttered - truly Zen.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, John and I camped in a tent during our visit to Magnolia Grove.  We had originally planned to commute (to stay in a hotel and drive back and forth to the monastery), but after re-examing the logistics as well as our finances, we decided that camping might be the way to go.  I am SO glad we did.  Staying in a hotel and leaving the monastery grounds each day would have detracted from the total immersion in mindfulness and simple living. 

For the record, I've only been tent camping once.  I was a footloose and fancy free woman of 21 (over 20 years ago, y'all!).  I remember not sleeping a wink as cold rain dripped ceaselessly through the old, canvas tent we were using, and almost getting crushed by an early morning stampede of moose in the mountains of New Hampshire.  Good times.  John has only been tent camping once or twice as well. His family used to take trips with a pop-up camper, but that hardly qualifies as "roughing it".

So, it was through the lovingkindness and generosity of friends that we were able to have the amazing experience of tent camping during our week at Magnolia Grove.  With kind donations of a HUGE tent, two cots (with mattresses!), folding canvas chairs, and lanterns, we sallied forth into the unchartered territory of living life in the great outdoors. 

Living in the open, so close to the earth and the natural cycles of nature really puts things in perspective.  You are brought back to living with the very basic necessities: food, shelter, warmth, light.

One of the greatest pleasures during our stay at Magnolia, was the feeling of the sunlight on our face as the sun came up on a cold morning. We would all be silently sitting at picnic tables or on benches with our steaming bowls of oatmeal and cups of hot tea, feeling warm inside but chilled outside. After washing the dishes behind the dining hall, we would slowly make our way back to our tents to prepare for the morning activities. Usually by then the sun would have climbed up high enough to peek over the trees and shine strongly on the open fields and spaces around the monastery buildings.  The most delicious part of the day was taking a few moments to pause and feel the exquisite warmth of the sun after a long, cold night.  To see fifty or so faces turned to the sun with their eyes closed with a look of pure joy was uplifting.

Getting close to the earth, touching the Earth, helps us to recognize that we're not alone but connected to the whole stream of people who came before us, our spiritual and blood ancestors.  Thay says: "We touch the Earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the earth and part of life...when we touch the earth we become small, with the humility and simplicity of a child.  When we touch the earth we become great like an ancient tree sending her roots deep into the earth, drinking from the source of all waters.  When we touch the earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the earth, and breathe out our suffering - our feelings of anger, hatred, fear, inadequacy and grief."

At the studio on Sunday, we used grounding postures and deep breathing to come back to our roots.  We used a variation of Thay's "Touching The Earth" meditation to deeply touch the elements within us that are connected to not only a long, unbroken lineage of ancestors but also to the land.  It's a wonderful way to remind ourselves that we are a part of everything and everything is a part of us.  It's a wonderful way to practice perspective.

Until next time...
The Five Earth-Touchings

Taking a moment to think of, with gratitude, all generations of ancestors in your blood family.
See your mother and father, whose blood, flesh, and vitality are circulating in your own veins and nourishing every cell in you. Through them,  see your four grandparents.  see your roots in your father, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers, and all your ancestors.  Know you are only the continuation of this ancestral lineage. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been passed down from so many generations of ancestors.

You carry in you the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all generations. Open your heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience passed down to you by your ancestors. 

See your parents when they were children, young and innocent, fresh to this world and free from hurt. See their innocence and feel love, compassion and sorrow for their hurts.

Know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they themselves encountered. 

See that your ancestors tried to build a way of life based on gratitude, joy, confidence, respect, and loving-kindness. As a continuation of your ancestors, feel a sense of gratitude and allow their energy to flow through you.  Feel their support, protection, and strength.
Taking a moment to think of, with gratitude, all generations of ancestors in your spiritual family.
See in yourself all of your teachers, the ones who show you the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive, and live deeply in the present moment. 

See the many wise and courageous women and men (known and unknown to us) who have shown us the way.  Know that their energy has deeply transformed the world. Their energy has entered you and is creating peace, joy, understanding, and loving-kindness.
Open your heart and your body to receive the energy of understanding, loving-kindness, and protection from all who have shared wisdom with you.  Know that you are the continuation of their teachings.  Ask these spiritual ancestors to pass on their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding, and love and vow to use this energy to practice so that I can transform suffering in myself and in the world, and to pass on their energy to future generations of practitioners.
Taking a moment to think of, with gratitude,  this land and all of the ancestors who made it available.
Feel how you are whole, protected, and nourished by this land and by the living beings who have made life easy and possible for me through all their efforts. See all those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice.

Feel the energy of this land penetrating your body and soul, supporting and accepting you.

Taking a moment to pass on, with gratitude and compassion, your energy to those you love.
All the energy you have received, pass it back on to your father, your mother, everyone you love, and all who have suffered and worried because of you, and for you.

Know you have not been mindful enough in your daily life.  Also know that those who love you have had their own difficulties.  See that they have suffered because they may not have been lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development, and feel compassion for their suffering. 

Pass your energy on to your beloved ones: mother, father, brothers,  sisters,  husband,  partner,  wife,  daughter,  son; to the family of friends you have created around you; and to the husband, wife, partner, and children you may have in the future.

Pass on your energy so that their pain will be relieved, so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive.  Send a wish for all of them to be healthy and joyful. Know that when they are happy, you will also be happy.  No longer feel resentment towards any of them. Know that you are not separate from them but rather one with those you love.
In understanding and compassion,  reconcile yourself with all those who have made you suffer and open your heart, sending your energy of love and understanding to them.
Know  that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are tight with pain, anger, and hatred.  Touch that pain and feel its sorrow and see that anyone who suffers that much will make those around him or her suffer.  Know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged and abused. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have been stripped of the innocence and joy of life. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have wronged us and the people we love.

See their suffering and do not  hold any feelings of hatred or anger in yourself toward them. Channel your energy of love and understanding to them. 


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